I've made dozens of bows, but I have broken most of them. Dunno for sure what the reasons for the breakages are.... probably inexperience, incompetence, and the unknown qualities of the wood I've been trying to work with.

I have some surviving bows though. One of my favourites is made from Olearia paniculata. I hope I spelt that correctly. It has a stringy bark and a yellow tinge in the leaf. Others are made from sycamore, barberry, hard beech (I think) and kanuka. Most of my broken bows were kanuka.

My bows are fairly crude, and are generally symmetrical. By that I mean I don't offset the handle. I have backed some with hide, and I have bound some of the handles.... but I don't glue on nocks or risers, and I've never made a bow from two bits of wood glued together. I've made stiff-handled bows, but currently I favour bend-through-the-handle bows. I figure with these I have more wood sharing the load and I can keep the bow a bit shorter.

Typically I will split a small log to create a one-piece stave. To do this I will generally baton a slasher blade into the end of the log and either drive it right down the full length, or use levers and wedges to continue the split. Having said that though, one bow that really impressed me was made from a kanuka sapling that was maybe only 60mm in diameter at the thick end.

For my earlier bows I would rough out the shape with a hatchet, then use a drawknife, spokeshave, rasp, scraper and sandpaper. My later bows were sometimes just made with a hatchet, and maybe a knife or a scraper. When using a draw knife or spokeshave, I found it useful to have a shaving horse to hold the stave. I made a 'quick' one using a length of 200 x 50mm timber. One end was elevated by having a bit of pipe inserted into a hole on the bottom edge (the pipe also had a foot welded across it so it looked like an inverted 'T'). The actual clamp was made from box-section steel and it pivoted on a bolt that went through the side of the plank. I had several holes through the clamp and the plank so I could choose the combination that best suited the job at hand. I sat on a round of firewood at the high end of the shaving horse, and pushed my foot against the bottom of the clamp which then locked the stave in place. I should mention also that I had a couple of bits of steel bar that were bolted to the plank as well. These could be flipped up to stop the stave moving sideways. Sometimes I'd have to jam the shaving horse against something to stop the pressure from my foot moving it away from me. Here it is with a somewhat snakey stave on top:

To check the curve of the 'tiller' I made a tillering stick which did the job, but I came to prefer a post and pulley arrangement which allowed me to check the tiller from a distance without having to have the bow drawn (stressed) for too long. I marked the post to give an indication of how many inches of draw I was pulling, although I seldom had the bow strung properly during most of the process.

I enjoy achieving more with less. It has been particularly satisfying to make a functional bow using just a hatchet or maybe just a hatchet and a knife. No shaving horse is required. I even worked on my bow once when I was working as a security guard in a small office. I was just taking light cuts, so all I needed for a chopping block was a thick magazine laid on the floor.

When I read about what some bows are capable of, mine seem rather puny. I understand that in some places a bow has to cast a hunting arrow a certain (huge) distance in order for the archer to get a hunting permit. I think it is something like a hundred yards. I doubt that any of my bows would come near that. However at the ranges I would shoot at an animal, the arrows have plenty of power. I have taken goats, a pig, rabbits and a possum with my home-made gear. I haven't hunted with a bow for a while now. I think that trapping is more fun and more reliable, plus if I am really serious about getting meat and have limited time I will choose a rifle if possible. But I'm glad that I have some basic bow & arrow knowledge and have had some experience with bow hunting.

One day I would really like to bag a big animal using totally primitive gear. My gear is primitive and all home-made, but I make my strings from synthetic threads and I use steel for my arrow heads. I guess I need to make some flax strings and knap a few glass points when I eventually get some time.

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Comment by Ryan Johnson-Hunt on July 6, 2010 at 7:27
Definitely fletched, I will try get the post up today

Comment by Stephen Coote on July 5, 2010 at 22:02
Pictures are always good. I'm wondering as to whether or not those Kenyan arrows are fletched.

Comment by Ryan Johnson-Hunt on July 5, 2010 at 19:31
Great that you have actually used your handmade bow successfully. you should definitely join the Bowmaking and Archery group. Liam had bowmaking experience and Colin Wheeler is keen to set up a flintknapping workshop. It may be a bit far for you to come but some videos/tutorial/locals might help.
Stay tuned for a post about some bows and arrows I found in storage from my childhood in kenya. I will post picks and maybe even a video of them in use if the weather clears up.

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